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Man Friday: An elephant by any other name… is still an elephant

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Tony Weaver is a freelance photo-journalist, environment writer, columnist and editor.

Whatever animal rights activists may say, there was nothing unique about the elephant someone named ‘Voortrekker’, other than that he had a good set of tusks, had a name, and was previously saved from hunting by a campaign that raised enough money to buy the hunting permit.

First published in Die Burger

There is a certain inevitability to it.

Every three years, the anti-hunting, animal rights lobby steps up the rhetoric around trophy hunting, accompanied by sponsored feature articles on why hunters are so evil (I also don’t like hunting).

The pro-hunting lobby – backed by scientists and wildlife managers – releases articles on why hunting is an essential tool in African conservation.

Why every three years? Because that’s when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Cites, meets to consider amendments to its trade rules. It meets in Geneva in August.

The most controversial proposal is one from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, to allow limited trade in elephant products.

The three countries all have hunting as part of their conservation toolbox and are home to an estimated 237,000 elephants. Southern Africa accounts for about 293,000, or around 70%, of Africa’s remaining elephants.

Crucially, the proposal to delist elephants to allow for controlled trade contains the rider that “the proceeds of the trade are (to be) used exclusively for elephant conservation and community conservation and development programmes within or adjacent to the elephant range”.

In the middle of all this comes the hunting in Namibia of a bull elephant given the name “Voortrekker”.

It was a serious misstep by Namibia to grant a hunting permit for a bull that has sentimental (and propaganda) value for animal rights activists at this sensitive stage in the lead-up to Cites. The activists have seized on that misstep, launching a massive social media campaign, plus the placing of articles sponsored by an anti-hunting NGO.

Namibia’s response was aggressive, but spot-on: The naming of an individual animal did not in any way change its conservation status.

They (critics) cannot look into the future to see where Namibia needs to be in decades to come. They rather look at each elephant individually. This is not a conservation-biology approach, but a short-term animal rights approach which is counterproductive to long-term conservation.”

Naming individual animals, which always become “iconic” once hunted, is a key tool in the animal rights workbox.

Whatever the activists may say, there was nothing unique about Voortrekker, other than that he had a good set of tusks (albeit one was broken), had a name, and was previously saved from hunting by a campaign that raised enough money to buy the hunting permit.

Namibia has around 22,000 elephants, from about 7,000 in 1995. Half of those 22,000 are NOT in national parks, but in communal areas whose people live daily with human-wildlife conflict. They benefit materially from wildlife through Namibia’s internationally lauded Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme.

That programme, painstakingly built up over decades by a handful of dedicated wildlife professionals, has seen Namibia’s wildlife flourish outside national parks.

A key part of CBNRM is raising funds for community conservation through hunting. And yet, much of the hype around “Voortrekker” has been in the form of direct attacks on CBNRM. What a short-sighted, anti-conservation approach!

Expect that noise, and the frequency of sponsored articles, to increase as Cites approaches.

Here’s my plea to wildlife authorities – please, don’t issue any more hunting permits for animals with arbitrary pet names like “Skylion”, “Cedric” or “Big Tooth” in the run-up to Cites. DM

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